Palestinian Resident of East Jerusalem Withdraws From Jerusalem Mayoral Race

Caught between Israel trying to take away his residency rights and Palestinians protesting his breaking with ranks, Aziz Abu Sara throws in towel but takes comfort that he helped 'start a dialogue'

Aziz Abu Sarah.
Emil Salman

The East Jerusalem candidate Aziz Abu Sarah has withdrawn from the Jerusalem mayoral elections, he announced on Tuesday.

Last week, when going to the Interior Ministry branch at the Israel’s international airport to extend his laissez passer, Abu Sarah discovered that the ministry intends to revoke his residency on the grounds that the center of his life is not in Jerusalem.

“The clerk started the procedure but then a message flashed on his monitor that there is a problem, and he had to call a superior,” Abu Sarah said. “They talked for about half an hour and then called the main office, where they were told that I didn’t have residency status anymore.

His lawyer is looking into the matter. But, he realized that given the circumstances his candidacy for the mayoralty didn’t stand a chance, Abu Sarah said.

Also, he and his colleagues on the Al-Quds Lana party list received threats from Palestinians opposed to normalizing relations with Israel and breaking the boycott on municipal elections.

“The pressure was serious,” he said. He would have found himself embarking on war with the Israeli authorities and under pressure on the Palestinian front, he said.

Ultimately he decided to withdraw, around three weeks after throwing his hat into the ring.

In any case, to be elected he would have had to gain the support of the High Court of Justice, because the law requires the mayor of Jerusalem to have Israeli citizenship. But given the situation he sees no point in suing over it.

Abu Sarah, like the overwhelming majority of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, does not have Israeli citizenship. He does have residency rights, but those can be revoked by the claim that the center of his life is not in Israel. The state has used that argument to revoke the residency permits of 14,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Abu Sarah owns an international tourism company. In recent years he’s been travelling in and out of Israel on a weekly basis. During the last year he remained in Israel at least one week out of each month and he has no other permanent address elsewhere in the world, he said.

“I’m frustrated,” he said. “But I think we did manage to create a dialogue. We made people think and put Jerusalem back on the table and talk about what’s happening here. A lot of Israelis wrote me that they didn’t know 40% of the city’s residents are Palestinians with no rights. Things in Jerusalem need to change. The people trying to preserve the status quo won’t win." He added, "This may not be the end, but the end of the beginning.”

There is still one other Palestinian candidate in the Jerusalem race, Ramadan Dabbash. In contrast to Abu Sarah, Dabbash doesn’t intend to change the status quo, rather to provide better service to East Jerusalem. Dabbash also faces intense pressure from Palestinians and radicals to quit the race. He has asserted that radicals tried to kidnap his son two weeks ago, in an attempt to force him to step down.